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Get Outside and Enjoy Your World

playdate8By Francine Clayton
Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School

At this time of year, we are all more aware of the beauty around us . We see trees leafing out, spring flowers blooming, and we are inspired to plant gardens and clean up our yards. Most of us are happy to “get back to nature” and enjoy the outside. Children spend more time in parks and on playgrounds. begging to stay just a little longer. Unfortunately, this burst of positive interaction with nature doesn’t always last for very long. Children and parents are busy. Parents are uneasy about allowing their children to be outside unsupervised or have them stray too far from home. Unfortunately, children are often so mesmerized by social media and computer games that they spend all their free time involved with them. These indoor activities replace the time that could be spent out doors. It is time that could be used to encourage better health, creative thinking, and increase the ability to problem solve.

I think most parents would agree with the importance of children having the opportunity to be outside and explore their world. How to manage that is the question. Studies have repeatedly shown that children who are regularly engaged in outside active play are healthier and stronger. Interacting with nature is also very beneficial to a child’s emotional health. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv relates a story about a young girl who discovered a place in a wooded area near her home. It became her special place for quiet and peaceful contemplation. Here is what she said about it.

“It’s like your free when you go out there. It’s your own time. Sometimes I go there when I’m mad—and then, just with the peacefulness, I’m better. I can come back home happy, and my mom doesn’t even know why.”

If you haven’t read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I would encourage you to take some time to glance through it and identify the parts that resonate with you. At the end of the book, I found many suggestions for ways that parents can help their children get outside and learn from nature. I will list the ones that seemed an easier fit for city dwellers. I hope you will consider trying one or two of these activities and have fun exploring nature with your children. Enjoy your spring, summer, fall, and winter!

Suggestions from Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
1. Do you have a place for a dirt pile in your yard? Add plastic shovels, trucks, and buckets for some back to nature fun.

2. Maintain a birdbath build a bat house, or create a space in your yard for native plants.

3. Nature can be an antidote to stress. Get outside with your child and enjoy nature.

4. Tell your children about your childhood places in nature and help them create their own.

5. Find a scrap of wood and place it on bare dirt. After a day or two, come back and see how many species have found shelter there.

6. Collect lightning bugs to be released at dawn, make a leaf collection, keep a terrarium or aquarium.

7. Got grandparents? They will remember playing outside as an expectation and will be glad to pass the experiences along to their grand children.

8. Put up a tent and go camping in your back yard.

9. Build a backyard weather station and become a cloud spotter.

10. Develop a green hour. Give your child time for unstructured play in the out doors. If possible, make this a daily activity.

11. Adopt a “sunny day rule”. If it is a beautiful day, don’t allow your child to spend time on the sofa. Get outside and enjoy the beautiful day.

12. Take a hike or be a stroller explorer with your infant.

13. Invent a nature game. On a hike, play “Find 10 critters”. You will think of others.

14. Keep a “wonder bowl”. After time outside, empty pockets and collect all the little treasures that were found.

15. Use all your senses at one time. Sit under a tree and listen to all the birds, think about what you smell, and can touch and watch all the nature around you. I suppose you could also bring a snack!

16. Try wildlife photography.

17. Build a tree house or a fort.

18. Adopt a tree. Watch and document all the changes.

19. Build an igloo, go snow boarding or sledding.

20. Dig a backyard pond or establish a water garden.

21. Plant a garden.

22. Go on a moth walk. Mix up a recipe of fruit, stale beer or wine or fruit juice. Add sweetener, molasses, or honey. Blend it and go out at sunset to spread it on trees or unpainted, untreated wood. Come back with a flashlight after dark and see what has been attracted to your mixture.

23. Help to restore butterfly migration routes by planting pollinating plants that produce nectar. Some examples are hollyhocks, lupine, and milkweed.

24. Look for farms that allow you to pick your own produce.

25. Take a family vacation to a state or national park.

26. Encourage older children to become citizen scientists.

27. Go birding

28. Look for nature adventure books

29. Collect stones

30. Purchase natural history field guides for your children. Find some that list local area places to hike.

Read more about it:

Cornell, Joseph. Sharing Nature With Children, 20th Anniversary Edition.

Hanscom, Angela J. Balanced and Barefoot: How Unstructured Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children.

Louv, Richard. Vitamin N

Ward, Jennifer. i love dirt! 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature.

Not Making Mistakes is the Biggest Mistake

writingawardwinners_adFLATBy Diane Borgmann
Sycamore School /Head of School

Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

There are lots of reasons we should make mistakes and lots of reasons we should allow our children opportunities to make mistakes.

Here are 5 reasons that mistakes are important:

1. Making mistakes allows more opportunities for risk-taking behaviors, and risk-taking behaviors allow opportunities to make more mistakes. We know that our brains function at their best when we are making mistakes. To deny our children the opportunities to take risks and make mistakes robs them of important learning.

2. As children explore and try new things, some succeed, and some fail. When they experience failure, they learn from those experiences, and that encourages them to try again. It helps them to build self-confidence. When they know they can handle failure, they are not afraid to make mistakes. The best learning takes place when we’re making mistakes.

3. Through mistakes, kids discover who they are. They learn about their own talents, limits, and capabilities. They learn that when they fail, it’s not catastrophic, but actually instructive. They refine their purposes, define their identities, and identify their paths forward to fulfilling lives. We can’t allow fear of failure to paralyze us and keep us from growing.

4. Making mistakes is freeing. It opens up a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them instead of fearing new experiences. Mistakes make us happy learners.

5. Mistakes can help us learn empathy. As we experience failure, we understand that we are not perfect and that perfection really doesn’t exist. When we understand our own mistakes, we understand the mistakes of others. With that understanding, we learn how to empathize and, therefore, to forgive ourselves, as well as others, for mistakes.

In order to allow our children and ourselves to grow, it is essential that we purposefully provide opportunities to take risks and make mistakes. It’s important for us to model making mistakes so our children will learn how to respond to their own mistakes.

Giving our children the opportunities to make their own mistakes will give them self-confidence, empathy, independence, and the ability to solve problems.

Grit: What is it?

By Francine Clayton
Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School

Grit is officially defined as indomitable courage. I wouldcandy also suggest that it is resourcefulness and strength in the face of difficulty. I have read several authors that have listed what they view to be characteristics of grit. Here are the ones that seem to be agreed upon. The specific definitions are from “Five Characteristics of High-Grit People” by Josh Irby.

1. They have a long-term perspective: This characteristic will allow people to accomplish great things because they are willing to work on them for a long time. They do not require an immediate return on their investment of time or effort. Gritty people also show their indomitable courage by reacting to immediate needs with firmness of character and tenacity.

2. They don’t quit: Every person who has achieved success has had at least a few moments of doubt. Even though it may be costly to keep going in the face of failure, high-grit people see a cost in quitting as well. They face the same temptation to give up that we all do but they don’t listen to it.

3. They delay gratification: High-grit people are not influenced by the power of now. Our culture is a culture driven by instant gratification. Gritty people know that difficulties today can become power tomorrow.

4. They view failure as progress: Gritty people take on big challenges. It is natural that on the way, they become very familiar with failure. However, gritty people don’t allow failure to destroy their enthusiasm, they use it to ultimately succeed.

5. They face their fear: It takes courage to face your fear and every time we face fear, it loses a little more of its power over us. Fear exerts as much control over us as we allow it.

The parents and teachers of young children are in a unique position to help children develop grit. The first step is to think carefully about the mindset that we are helping children develop. Carol Dweck has written a wonderful book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A good question for every parent and teacher to ask is: What mindset am I encouraging in my children? Is it a fixed mindset or is it a growth mindset? A fixed mindset believes that certain qualities such as intelligence, moral character and personality are unchangeable. A person is given a certain amount of each and that is what you must work with. A growth mindset believes that a person’s true potential is unknown and that it is impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with enthusiasm, effort, and training. With a growth mind set, a person does not see failure as a permanent condition. I think you can see that a gritty person needs a growth mindset.

Another good question to ask ourselves is: How do I address failure with my student or child? Is failure something to cause embarrassment and shame, or is it something to learn from? Do I intercede on behalf of my child in order to protect them from failure and attribute their failure to someone else’s actions? Are we hoping that our children will strive for perfection or for excellence? Excellence involves trusting that we have given the best that we have to our chosen project. This may involve experiencing failure, asking why the plan failed and trying again. Perfection is about complying with a set of expectations that we have internalized and may actually belong to someone else. If we didn’t succeed, there is no recourse. We just failed. That is the end of it and we are diminished by our failure. You can see that the goal of perfection is a characteristic of a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset is not likely to take an intellectual risk, think creatively, or believe in their ability to learn from failure, try again, and succeed in the end. I hope you can see that a fixed mindset on the part of a parent or teacher can create a fixed mindset in a child. This makes the development of grit very problematic.

In “5 Characteristics Of Grit—How Many Do You Have?” Margaret Perlis suggests that we consider grit and hardiness to be very similar. She has developed an equation that does a good job of defining what characteristics we can help our children acquire in order to become a gritty person.

Optimism + Confidence + Creativity = Resilience = Hardiness =(+/-)Grit.

Intelligence is a strong indicator of future success. Intelligence along with training is essential. Grit, however, will create a person with an indomitable spirit who is resourceful, courageous, and daring in the face of difficulty.

Would you like to learn more?

TED Talks with Angela Duckworth
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D
True Grit’s Guide To A Grittier More Successful Life by Josh Irby
Resilience, Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli

Rough Play: Is it a good experience for our children?

little boys playing like puppies

little boys playing like puppies

By Francine Clayton
Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School

Attitudes regarding rough play or big body play are beginning to change. Early Childhood educators are examining the different behaviors of children during rough play and fighting. They see many differences. Researchers are also beginning to study the benefits of rough play for children. This type of play may involve parents, siblings, or friends. Rough housing is also a familiar term that is used for big body play.

How does this rough play begin and why do so many children love it? All children have an early history of big body play. Infants learn from their bodies by rolling over, kicking, and waving their arms. Children who are crawling will often crawl on top of each other and be totally comfortable with the situation. Infants usually learn to stand by holding onto a parent and pushing off of the parent’s body. They learn to move backward and forward and roll onto their parent. I believe we can agree that almost all young children love being dangled upside down and then lowered safely onto a parent’s lap. Toddlers will play together by pushing, hugging, and tackling. This is usually the time when adults begin to restrict big body play. The concern is that it will encourage the development of an aggressive personality or cause harm to the children. Perhaps this is really the time to supervise big body play and allow children to learn from it.

What are the observable characteristics of rough play? Rough play is characterized by games of running, chasing, fleeing, tagging, rolling, bouncing, and jumping. It involves vigorous physical exercise. The children voluntarily enter into the play and they sustain the play by taking turns. The children involved are often making up the rules as they play. Although an adult may see this play as too rough, the children will willingly return to the play over and over again while laughing and smiling. Adults are concerned that rough and tumble play will lead to real fighting. However, researchers have found that this happens in less than 1% of rough play.

How is real fighting different? Real fighting involves physical actions that are intended to coerce or control another person. The child seeking control will either inflict pain or threaten to do so. Children will slap with an open palm rather than tag with an open palm. If two children are fighting, one child will usually run away and not voluntarily return. Children will have tense facial expressions rather than be seen smiling and laughing.

How could engaging in rough play or big body play benefit a child? The first and most obvious benefit is the vigorous exercise that helps children maintain good health. Children also are calmer and more able to focus after 10 minutes of vigorous play. Children gain valuable communication skills when engaging in this type of play. The game always involves the discussion of rules and the willingness to abide by them. Children need to observe each other for when to keep playing and when to withdraw in order to play without inflicting pain. As a result children are learning to share, take turns, compromise, and hold back in order to sustain the play. I mentioned earlier that rough play leads to fighting in less than 1% of the time. When it does occur, researchers have found that it is usually the result of a child entering the play who has fewer social skills. The child enters the game without understanding the rules or how to compromise, take turns, or hold back so that real physical harm does not occur. They are unable to read the cues of the other children and, as a result, their behavior upsets the balance of the play.

Among Early Childhood educators, there is increasing interest in rough play and how it could benefit children physically and socially. Some games that you may remember playing as a child are King of the Mountain, Red Rover, Freeze Tag, Steal the Bacon, and Duck, Duck, Goose. These are games that involve big body play but are often supervised by an adult. All rough and tumble play should be supervised to some degree. Children who are used to playing together will probably require less supervision but even they may collectively decide that the new rule would be to climb to the roof of the garage and push each other off. That would be a new way to play King of the Mountain but it would also require some adult intervention.

All parents hope their children will grow to be empathetic people who are good communicators with sound judgment and the self- confidence and self control to avoid using anger, intimidation, or aggression as a way to resolve conflict. For these reasons, the big body play that was so natural in infancy has been discouraged as children become older. It was believed that rough play would hinder the development of these positive characteristics. In the light of new research, however, it may be time to re-evaluate these beliefs. A little rough housing may be very good for you and your children!

Nine Steps to Independence and Self Confidence For Your Child

 IMG_7489By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School

Would you prefer for your child to grow up to be an independent, self-confident adult, or would you prefer that he/she moves back home to live with you? I often ask parents this question facetiously, knowing that every healthy parent wants to raise a strong, independent, self-reliant child. Sometimes, however, as parents, we unwittingly nurture dependence instead of the independence we desire for our children.

Following are some guidelines for nurturing independence in your child:

  1. Require your child to do what he/she can do. If your child can tie his shoes, don’t tie them for him. If she can pack her own backpack, don’t pack it for her. By allowing—and requiring—our children to do what they are capable of doing, we nurture self-sufficiency and enhance self-esteem. When we do for children things that they are capable of doing for themselves, the subtle message is, “I know you can’t do this very well, so I’ll do it for you.” The way to increase a child’s sense of self-esteem is to let him/her tackle tough things and succeed.
  2. Don’t overschedule your child. Require that your child be in charge of some of his/her own time and activities. A child cannot successfully develop independence when adults are planning and executing every activity. A child needs time and practice to learn to plan, to think creatively, to experiment, and to make mistakes.
  3. Don’t succumb to parent peer pressure. This is real. Sometimes, as parents, we allow ourselves to feel threatened by other parents, afraid their children will excel more than ours. After all, if all the other 4-yesr-olds are enrolled in an organized sports program, shouldn’t we enroll our children too? Trust your own judgment about your own child, and make decisions based on his/her needs, not some generalized parent opinion.
  4. Allow “adult time” for you and your spouse. We often make a mistake by always putting our child first. The relationship between you and your spouse is the primary one, and the quality of that relationship can have a profound effect on how your child sees the world and your family. Don’t make the mistake of worshipping your child.
  5. Provide opportunities for choices and decision-making. It’s important for children to have some age-appropriate decision-making power. Even if it’s just what to wear, what to eat, or how to style their hair, it’s important that they have some control over decisions that affect them. As they grow, teach strategies for making more important decisions like what music instrument to play or what course to take. But then leave the final decision in their hands! They will not always make the best decision, and they will not always make the decision you would’ve made; but they will learn from the process.
  6. Encourage autonomy; don’t rescue too quickly. When our child has a problem to solve, the first question we should ask is, “What do you plan to do about that?” Of course, we should be available to answer questions and provide support, but not to navigate the issue for them. They will see that they are capable of solving problems, and their confidence will grow.
  7. Encourage risk-taking; allow them to make mistakes. We learn best when we’re making mistakes, and it’s vitally important that children be given the opportunity to make mistakes. It’s very hard as a parent to sit back and watch your child make a mistake when you could prevent it. But if you don’t allow that, you’re robbing your child of an important learning experience.
  8. Respect their perceptions, opinions, and interests. As parents, we need to work on raising the children we have, not those we wish we had. It’s important to listen actively to our children and take their opinions seriously. If they see us carefully considering their ideas and acting on them, then it will not be as big of an issue on the occasion when we can’t go along with their ideas. They are also more like to listen to us and take our opinions seriously if we’ve provided an appropriate model.
  9. Keep expectations realistic. You know your child and his/her capabilities. Your expectations should align with what you know about your child. It’s probably more common for parents to set expectations too low than too high. Setting expectations too low is probably more costly in the long run and harder to reverse. Challenge your child to the extent he/she can handle the challenge.

This list of guidelines is by no means exhaustive. When thinking about nurturing independence in our children, however, the nine ideas in this list will guide your thinking and actions.

Onward and upward!

The Importance of Art, Music, Language and Physical Education for Students

10By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School

What is so special about Special Area instruction? Special area studies bring vital skills into a child’s educational experience. These subject areas not only provide experience with essential skills that are unique to the subject area, but they also reinforce and compliment the skills needed in traditional academic areas. Rejecting time for art appreciation, physical education, foreign language or music in order to put more time into math or language arts is a misguided use of instructional time. Eliminating these special classes from the curriculum weakens overall instruction.

I will list four special area classes and examine the ways that these areas of instruction, having merit in their own right, also enhance overall academic instruction.

Art Appreciation
It is obvious that, for young children, learning to manipulate, markers, crayons, scissors, paintbrushes, modeling clay, and other medium will strengthen their fine motor skills. These are skills needed for handwriting, tying shoes, buttoning buttons, and zipping zippers. What other benefits are there for children who are involved in art appreciation?
• Learning skills required for the successful use of a maker space.
• Learning to evaluate a product, identify possible flaws, and improve the design
• Developing critical and creative thinking.
• Learning to evaluate visual information and ideas.
• Developing a broader vocabulary and the use of descriptive words.
• Become a better consumer by learning how to evaluate persuasive visual art in advertising.

Physical Education
With all of the concern over childhood and adult obesity as well as all of the related health issues, the need for physical activity should be obvious. Children who learn to be physically active when they are young are much more likely to continue the habit in later years. That fact on its own should help us all realize that recess and physical education are vital to the well being of our students. In case anyone needs more convincing, here are more benefits to be gained by regular physical activity.
• Better social and motor skill development
• Strengthening developing muscles, bones, and joints
• Reducing fat and lowering blood pressure
• Reducing depression and anxiety
• Building self-confidence, concentration and coordination from an early age.
It is clear that physical activity is important at school and at home. There are so many ways to be active. Even children who are not interested in intense physical activity can find something to enjoy.

Children from birth to six years of age are considered to be in the “music babble” stage. This is much the same as the “language babble” stage for young children. Children continue to develop musically through a sequence of activities that will include singing in tune and marching to a beat. A rich music environment will continue to provide exposure to music elements. This continuous exposure will result in a child’s playful experimentation with music. The most typical reason that this skill does not develop in a child is simply a lack of exposure. What other benefits are there to music education?
• The development of brain areas that involve language and reasoning
• A causal link has been found between music and spatial intelligence
• Creative thinking and problem solving
• Recent studies show higher achievement in other academic areas when children are involved in music education
• Children learn the value of sustained effort to attain excellence
• Music provides children with a means of self-expression which leads to self-esteem
• Music performance teaches children to conquer anxiety and take risks.
• Self- discipline and cooperation skills are developed

Foreign Language
Children that know a language other than their native English, learn to be more open to people from other cultures and those who speak another language. As our economy and our existence become more global in nature, it is important that our children develop a willingness to understand the differences in the people of the world. The Early Language Learning Research White Paper Report that was updated in January 2008 and is published by Early Advantage has indicated some benefits to learning a foreign language. In the paper, there are six advantages listed.
• Earlier is Better: Children who begin to learn a foreign language as early as the age of 3 have an advantage. They learn quickly and often are more ready to learn another new languages in the future.
• Foreign language study increases cognitive abilities, including intellectual and academic
• Foreign language study improves verbal skills in English.
• Children who study foreign language have higher test scores in English and Math than English only children.
• Knowledge of foreign language provides students access to more opportunities in higher education and beyond
• Foreign language knowledge leads to better employment opportunities and higher salaries

It is easy to see that the Special Area classes of art appreciation, music, physical education, and foreign language are indeed very special. They are valuable in their own right but they also contribute to the achievement of children in many other areas. Cutting these opportunities from the curriculum so that children spend more time at their desks studying traditional academics is clearly an unfortunate decision. So, if you exercise even once in a while, enjoy listening to any kind of music or sing in the shower, appreciate the beauty that you see around you every day, and value the friendship or point of view of someone who is not exactly like you, thank those very special, Special Area teachers.


happyholidaysBy Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School

The holiday season seems like an appropriate time to think about appreciation and gratitude. How do we teach children to show appreciation, and is that important? I believe the answer to the second part of my question is yes, and I’d like to discuss ways that we might teach children to be grateful and why that’s important.

Appreciation is the ability to know and value others; it’s a foundation for learning to be empathetic. Before children can learn to identify with and be sensitive to feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of others, they need to learn to value others. We can help children learn to step outside of their one-person universe and be more other-focused. Children who never learn to do this often feel entitled and perpetually disappointed. Grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress than those who have not learned to be grateful.

Gratitude and appreciation are learned. So how do we teach our kids these attitudes and behaviors? Even toddlers understand that they are separate from their parents, and the older children are, the more sophisticated that understanding becomes. They will, however, model parents’ behavior, so it is essential that you model the behaviors you want to teach your children.

Following are some ideas and strategies for teaching children appreciation:

We need to help our kids learn to be appreciative just like we need to help them learn to speak, read, write, etc. Clarify your own values so you can stand firm when your child challenges you about what “all the other kids” have or do. They may not like responses you give them, but that’s fine. They will internalize those values, and it will pay off as they grow and develop. Be patient and listen to your children. Just like all other character traits, appreciation does not develop overnight. It’s a learning process, and I believe you will love what you see develop.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a terrific break with your kids!

Onward and upward!









So Many Books!  How Do I Choose For My High Ability Child?

By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood /Sycamore School

One of the many delightful parts of raising children is introducing them to literature.  Children begin this journey by chewing on cloth or  board books.  Eventually they understand that books are valuable for their content and not just for their flavor or their use as a teething device.  What a milestone!   Now, however, you are faced with a myriad of books with differing content as well as the style of illustrations.  There are so many choices in both the fiction and non- fiction categories that it is difficult to decide what is appropriate for your high ability child.   I have some suggestions that may help you navigate the waters of children’s literature.

First we will look again at a few of the characteristics of a high ability child.  The characteristics that will impact your literature choices are:

How can books address these characteristics?

  1. Exposure to new information or explore a particular interest
  2. Exposure to new vocabulary or the phrasing of language
  3. Exposure to new cultures and/or ideas
  4. Exposure to new experiences or a new point of view
  5. Develop an appreciation for different types of illustrations
  6. Pleasure
  1. Identification with another person’s problem or feelings
  2. Finding ways to cope with difficult situations, worries, anxiety, and other emotions
  3. Refine a developing sense of humor
  4. Develop imagination and creativity
  5. Begin to develop a value system and a moral compass

Now that we have looked at some characteristics of gifted children and identified ways that books can support these characteristics, we will look at the qualities in a book that would make it a good choice for a gifted child.  I have provided some examples of books that have one or more of these characteristics.  You will find many books, however, that would also be excellent choices but it helps to have some guidelines when evaluating a book.


Reading to your child and sharing favorite books is a precious pass time that is a joy to both the child and the parent.  When you are reading to your child, seat your child close to you so he or she may easily see the pictures and help with page turning.  Briefly explain vocabulary that may be new to your child.  Casually check for understanding if the information is new.  Some concepts may need a little interpretation in order to bring meaning to the story.   Remember that your child, who may already be a reader, will still enjoy having you read to them.   You will be able to introduce them to picture books that have a higher reading level than they have achieved.  Besides, cuddling up to a parent and hearing the comforting sound of their voice is irreplaceable.

Happy reading!

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317.202.2544 (Admissions) / 317.202.2500 (Front Desk)

A Few Things Learned in 28 years of Identifying Gifted Children

cathedralolympicsBy Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions / Sycamore School

For more information on identifying gifted children, please contact Dr. Susan Karpicke, Director of Admissions at Sycamore School, at or visit our website,



Suggested Books for Gifted Readers in Grades 1-4

By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School

Many gifted children are voracious readers. They may have taught themselves to read at an early age, possess an advanced vocabulary, read much more than same age peers, and continue to love to read into and after middle school years. They often prefer nonfiction, or like fiction genres such as fantasy or science fiction. Gifted readers should be allowed to read or reread books of their choosing, but guidance (not dictation) with book suggestions can be helpful.

I believe that books can help gifted children develop in a variety of ways. As they explore their own identities, books can help them consider who they are and what they believe. It’s important that they can find books with characters and issues to which they can relate. Books can support children’s social and emotional development, helping them consider the importance of relationships, contemplate a different point of view, or develop empathy for others. Books often help children grow intellectually, as they develop passions for various topics or academic areas. It’s also important to expose gifted children to books that can help them appreciate a wide variety of genres. Since gifted readers can often read at a higher reading level than their age level, one concern of parents is finding books that have appropriate content for their child’s age level.

Parents can look for reviewed lists of books from a variety of places. Some I recommend are children’s and teachers’ choices lists from the International Literacy Association (, the book award winners from the Association for Library Service to Children (, ideas from Hoagies’ Gifted Ed page (, ideas from Bertie Kingore (, and links from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (

There are so many wonderful books for gifted kids that on any particular day I can come up with totally different suggestions, but I would like to share some books I talked about recently at a parent presentation at Sycamore School. It is fun to pair books together, so I have created a list of three great pairings, with six total books.

1.newburyIt is based on the true story of a gorilla kept captive for 27 years in a shopping mall storefront before being able to spend his last years in a kinder environment at Zoo Atlanta. Ivan, the gorilla, is the narrator of the book and focuses on his perspective of his life and friendships. A great book to pair with this is the picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, also by Katherine Applegate. It tells Ivan’s story in the traditional way, and includes facts and photos of Ivan at the end.

2. Another great pairing is Chris Van Allsburg’s books The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. The first one is a picture book with Van Allsburg’s signature mysterious illustrations, each of which includes just a sentence story starter. It’s great for kids to be able to create their own written or oral story to accompany the pictures. The second book was written years later, and includes a story created for each picture by different children’s book authors. It’s fun for kids to compare their stories to the authors’ stories.

3. A final pairing is Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley paired with the book by Bentley titled Snow Crystals. Snowflake Bentley is the biography of Wilson Bentley, born in 1865, who spent years photographing snowflakes and discovered that no two snowflakes are alike. Snow Crystals is his published book of his photographs. Kids will love hearing his story and seeing his beautiful photographs. It will make them excited for the first snow of the season!

Many children enjoy reading graphic novels, and there are many to choose from. One I shared was a graphic novel done of the classic book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It could be interesting to see which version your child might like best. The story is a great book about children searching for their missing father. It’s a fantasy and a mystery, and children will be able to relate to the characters in the story, all of whom are gifted in different ways. I personally like the original best, but have had students at Sycamore praise the graphic novel version! A book that is not a graphic novel, but is full of wonderful illustrations is the chapter book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s a great book for kids that are both avid and reluctant readers, since about half of the 530 pages tell the story through illustrations only. It’s the longest book to every win the Caldecott Medal in 2008.

Many students at Sycamore recommended the book Land of Stories: The Wishing Well by Chris Colfer. I have to agree it’s a wonderful book, the first in a series about a brother and sister that end up in a land of fairy tale characters. Gifted kids enjoy fantasy and this one delivers with magic and mystery as they try to get back home. Another fantasy is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart, also the first in a series. What’s great about this one is that the characters are all gifted children.

Some books I shared that I feel focus on children learning to understand and accept other people and cultures are The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Rain Reign by Ann Martin, Silent Music: A Story of Bagdhad by James Rumford, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Some are picture books and some are chapter books; read about them on Amazon to see what you think.

I don’t have the space to continue book talking, but I am including my entire list of suggestions. You may want to take the time to check them out and see which ones might be a great fit for your child. There are fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selections. Don’t assume a picture book must be for younger children, some of the picture books will be great for older elementary kids. I hope you enjoy these!

Lower School Book Suggestions / November 2015 / Glenna Lykens
Applegate, Katherine. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla.
Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan.
Bentley, W. A. and Humphreys, W. J.  Snow Crystals.
Brink, Carol Ryrie.  Caddie Woodlawn.
Cameron, Ann.  The Stories Julian Tells.
Campbell, Sarah. Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature.
Colfer, Chris. The Land of Stories.
DK Publishing. True or False?
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. One Day, The End.
Floca, Brian. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain.
Goodall, Jane.  The Chimpanzees I Love.
Hannigan, Katherine.  Ida B.
Henkes, Kevin. The Year of Billy Miller.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. The Tree That Time Built.
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. Fish in a Tree.
Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size.
Jonas, Ann. Round Trip.
Kerley, Babara.  Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins.
Konigsburg, E. L.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Law, Ingrid. Savvy.
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time.
L’Engle, Madeleine and Larson, Hope. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.
Le Guin, Ursula.  Catwings.
Martin, Ann M. Rain Reign.
Martin, Jacqueline Briggs.  Snowflake Bentley.
Michael, Pamela (Editor).  River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things.
Nelson, Kadir.  Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Pennypacker, Sara. Clementine.
Palacio, R. J. Wonder.
Polacco, Patricia. The Trees of the Dancing Goats.
Rumford, James. Silent Music: A Story of Bagdhad.
Sayre, April Pulley. Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust.
Scanlon, Liz Garton. All the World.
Selznick, Brian.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Shulman, Mark.  Mom and Dad Are Palidromes.
Singer, Marilyn.  Follow Follow.
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Van Allsburg, Chris.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales.
Van Allsburg, Chris.  The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Each Kindness.
Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side.